Unpopular Opinion: Did you know that in Keto, you need you count the grams in sugar alcohol?
Most people believe that artificial sweeteners from the sugar alcohol group are absolutely safe on the keto diet. That’s not true.
And guess what’s even worse?
Many keto experts and keto coaches are totally unaware of this fact.
Sugar substitutes like Maltitol, Sorbitol, and Xylitol are added to all sorts of products marketed as keto-friendly—and people don’t count them as carbs.
Here’s why you should.
What are sugar alcohols?
Sugar alcohols are a class of carbohydrates produced from sugar through hydrogenation. Chemically speaking, they are organic compounds with a hydroxyl (-OH) group bound to each carbon atom in their chain structure.
The key word here is carbohydrates. Sugar alcohols are still carbs, and you’ll have to keep track of them to stay in ketosis.
How sugar alcohols affect ketosis
There’s a popular misconception in the keto community that sugar alcohols aren’t absorbed in the guts, and thus they can’t affect your ketosis. Basically, people believe that sugar alcohols are just like dietary fiber: it contributes to the total carb count, but doesn’t matter much in the end since it doesn’t lead to spikes in blood glucose.
For starters, the body CAN absorb sugar alcohols, although not as efficiently as ordinary sugar.
According to the second edition of the Encyclopedia of Food Sciences and Nutrition, the estimated rate of absorption of the most common sugar alcohols is about:
- Lactitol - below 1%
- Sorbitol - 15 to 20%
- Mannitol - 15 to 20%
- Xylitol - 25 to 40%
- Isomalt - 35 to 45%
- Maltitol - 45 to 60%
- Erythritol - 60 to 90%
Sugar alcohols are absorbed and metabolized much less efficiently than ordinary sugar, and thus their effect on blood glucose levels is milder too. Milder, but not negligible—at least not always.
Here’s how you should count your sugar alcohols
In most cases, you won’t know the exact sugar alcohols that are present in a given product. They’re often just listed as ”sugar alcohol” in the Carbohydrates section of the product’s Nutrition Facts, without further details. You won’t know whether that’s X grams of lactitol (with an absorption rate below 1%) or xylitol (absorption rate of 25 to 40%).
So how should you count your sugar alcohols to stay in ketosis?
According to recommendations from diabetes education centers, sugar alcohols can be counted as absorbedat about 50% the rate of ordinary sugar.
Let’s imagine a product with the following nutrition facts:
Total carbs - 20 g
(Dietary fiber - 4 g
Sugars - 8 g
Sugar alcohols - 8 g)
Strict keto dieters count their total carbs, without subtracting dietary fiber and other types of carbs. If that’s your case, no further calculations are needed.
In most cases, however, people count their net carbs: total carbs minus dietary fiber. In this case, subtract half of the sugar alcohols count along with dietary fiber to learn your adjusted net carbs count:
Net carbs = 20 (total carbs) - 4 (dietary fiber) - 8/2 (half of the sugar alcohols) = 20 - 4 - 4 = 12 g net carbs
Final thoughts: should you worry about your sugar alcohol intake?
Counting your carbs to the very last gram is one of the essential principles of the keto diet.
For most people, sugar alcohols won’t make a difference as long as they don’t eat too much of them. A piece of chewing gum with xylitol has a minuscule dose of the sweetener, no need to worry.
But that’s not always the case.
For example, if you want to try a keto-friendly ice cream, it would probably be a good idea to count your sugar alcohols, as a single serving of these products can pack anywhere from 5 to 15 g of sugar alcohols (meaning 2.5 to 7.5 g of net carbs).